Interoception: 4 things we learnt from interoception expert Kelly Mahler

Interoception expert Kelly Mahler leans against a coloufully painted wall

We recently spoke to Kelly Mahler, a leading expert on interoception who works with adults and children to help them improve their understanding of their inner sense of self. Among the brilliant resources Kelly has created is the Interoception Curriculum, a hugely popular programme for teachers working in schools that helps pupils, including those with additional needs, develop their sense of internal body awareness. Kelly has a real gift for making sometimes complicated subjects accessible. Here’re four things we learnt from our chat with her.

1. Understanding interoception might sound difficult, but it’s really easy

Interoception can sound like a technical term, so getting your head around it isn’t always easy. So, Kelly starts simple, linking it to everyday life to help make it more straightforward.

She says: “I always ask people: “How do you know when you’re hungry? How do you know when you’re sleepy? How do you know when you’re excited? And do you know how you feel that feeling in your body?”. The answer that they arrive at for that final question, that’s interoception!” Of course, how we experience interoception is completely personal, but this is a useful way of helping to explain what it is.

2. Breaking down how we feel can help us improve our interoceptive awareness

Understanding how our bodies feel is really important and can help us feel safe inside our own skin. But for some people describing how our bodies feel requires a lot of concentration and attention. This can make it really inaccessible, especially children. By focusing on one body part at a time, the hands, heart and stomach, suddenly it’s much more manageable and we can slowly build up a picture of how our entire body feels.

Find out more about interoception in our full interview with Kelly Mahler below:

3. Emotion words can be abstract, interoception helps to give them meaning

In the world of therapy, there’s sometimes a knowledge gap between what a practitioner is suggesting during a treatment and what the person is experiencing. A practitioner might tell us to breathe deeply when we’re stressed or angry. But emotion words like these can be really abstract, so first we need to understand what stress or anger feels like to us in our body.

Through interoception, we’re able to feel what happens in our body for a particular emotion, which helps to apply meaning to these words. It makes it much easier to engage with a troublesome emotion and figure out how to work our way through it better.

4. We often try to ignore discomfort, but we should listen to the discomfort in our bodies

From the day we’re born, we’re designed to notice discomfort. And our bodies are actually built to be uncomfortable. When a baby feels interoceptively uncomfortable, it cries to let us know that something isn’t right and we need to take action.

But generally as a culture, we’re not very good at confronting discomfort, and often even try to ignore it. However, listening to our discomfort is really important because it can provide us really valuable information about our bodies and what we need.

Find out more

You can find out more about Kelly and her brilliant work on her website:

For more fascinating interviews with experts on interoception and inner body awareness, head over to our Inner Sense YouTube channel. And if you’d like more insights and tips on how to live improve your overall wellbeing, please sign up to the Restoring Balance newsletter.